Sunday, December 20, 2009

An Unofficial Tribute to Late Prof. Sanajaoba

One Summer day in India Habitat Centre
"You know what the problem in your Northeast is? You people have not given up your tribal instincts! The Kukis do not trust the Nagas, the Nagas do not trust the Meiteis, Kukis, Ahoms, and so on! Take up any State in the Northeast, say Mizoram, Assam, Manipur, etc., at the slightest opposition by a tribe to another tribe; you people do not mind killing each other!"
This was a remark uttered by a renowned scholar, a professor, in a seminar on "Peace in Northeast India" organised in India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. Noted scholars, media persons, policy makers, social activists, research scholars and others, from all over India attended the national seminar. Notably, it was just a few days after the Godhra incident of 2002, in which Hindu nationalists, under the patronage of VHP and Chief Minister Narendra Modi, terminated numerous Muslims in Gujarat.
"Perhaps, you are right to say that. Incidentally, Manipur was engulfed in ethnic cleansing a decade or so ago. The Karbi Anglong region is still reeling under ethnic strife, so is the problem of Mizo chauvinism in Mizoram. Demands of NSCN–IM for Nagalim have led to tensions in Manipur, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland. Moreover, there is the reality of armed-opposition movements in the region. However, if Professor is a keen observer of political developments in the region, perhaps you would note that the people of the Northeast have become highly (politically) matured. For example, during the June Uprising of 2001 in Manipur following the Bangkok Agreement between the Government of India and NSCN–IM, in which Naga civil society bodies laid the National Highways connecting Manipur under seize for more than 45 days, acknowledging their solidarity with the IM faction for the "extension of ceasefire without territorial limits", the whole stand off was devoid of bloodshed. Shortage of foodgrains, other essential commodities, medicines and so on, marked the State of Manipur. Even there were incidents, in which infants died for want of medicines for diarrhoea! But mind you, the valley people of Manipur did not harm the Nagas, in fact voluntary organisations waited sentry to protect them in the valley against miscreants. Or for that matter, the Nagas did not harm any other communities of Manipur. But it must be recorded that in the land of Gandhi, where everybody sings about non-violence, in a single night you "civilised" people could terminate more than thousand Muslims! Yes, I am talking about Godhra and similar incidents in India. Indeed, this is the political reality of India and the stereotypic image you learned people propagate about the Northeast. Good job! We’re happy not to have given up our tribal instincts!"
Needless to say, thundering applauses filled up the huge auditorium for more than half an hour. We the people from Northeast were not the ones who initiated the clapping.
True, Yenning’s acquaintances with Prof. Sanajaoba was rare, being so we do not claim to know anything personal about him, and thus, this unofficial tribute. We met only three times. The fourth and last being his funeral service on December 14, 2009, a day after he passed away on December 13, 2009 on the day of his book release ceremony (Third edition of Manipur Puwari, published by National Research Centre, Canchipur, Manipur).
Place of late Prof. Sanajaoba in the academic world of Manipur
If the society of Manipur is fragmented, the same is also true for the academic landscape. But to the young scholars, and aspiring academicians undergoing research works (on Manipur or the Northeast) in various universities of the world, the schism is not felt. Certain scholarly works become indispensable, especially for the students of social sciences and law, and a volume edited by Prof. Sanajaoba, titled, Manipur Past and Present in four volumes is a notable one. Interestingly, he is not a historian but a scholar of law, who took the initiative to compile such a valuable book. As an intellectual, he was not interested in the annals of kings and landlords, instead believed in chronicling the trials and travails of the common masses.
Critics say, the volume lacks a theoretical framework as well as rigorous analysis to be called a scholarly work. Here, Yenning would like to differ, same as many other scholars feel, that this is a seminal work on Manipur: ethnicity, social movements, legal and constitutional, religion, culture, history, etc., all rolled in one. It is the duty of the younger generation to develop upon the work both in the epistemological and academic sense. We are fortunate enough to have with us this valuable work. The publisher of the volumes, Mittal, Delhi, introduces the books as follows:
The present volume, which is the first of the four volume series is a compendium of voluntary contributions of eminent scholars and specialists in their respective fields on the multi-faceted civilization of Manipur which shows remarkable thematic coherence. The Book of Treaties, including historical documents and rare photographs, constitutes the Appendix. Manipur the veritable dreamland and a silent-valley or unrivalled beauty deserves your intellectual journey. The past is very much alive in the present as will be found unfolded in the succeeding pages of the book.
On his dead-bed, while remembering about this particular volume, Oja (very unlikely) became emotional. He said: "I did not take anybody’s help, I distanced away from funding of any kinds. My effort was to collect few friends, that’s too, who genuinely loves Manipur."
If we choose a scholar in Manipur, who has successfully dealt with the question of Manipur’s sovereign status, then, there is none like Oja. His lifelong argument (academically as well as a human rights activist) is that Manipur is an oppressed nation. Situation of oppression arises on account of taking away of Manipur’s sovereignty by India after British paramountcy lapsed in Manipur. Two situations arise out of this, first, Manipur never merged with India (and thus, question of secession does not arise) and second, the political and legal entity of Manipur cannot be negotiated (destroyed because Manipur enjoys international territory status) on any account. Other books of Oja deals in length about the question of sovereignty and rights of the oppressed nations and nationalities taking Manipur as the reference point. Majority of his articles are on this subject. As a true scholar, he believed everybody must be guaranteed the right to self determination. Perhaps, such an academic imprint could be the reason why numerous insurgent outfits are paying condolences to Oja!
Mark or a footprint of a scholar is works he leaves behind. Ideas apart, there is also the necessity of leaving behind a corpus of works to prove that a person is genuinely an academician. Here, we are not counting certain books, such as guides merely written for students to pass their annual examination or for that matter articles compiled into a volume and published to enhance one’s promotion. If one takes a cursory look at the works left behind by Prof. Sanajaoba, one would be amazed by the sheer amount of quantity as well as quality, each meticulously written and analysed. Manipur is yet to find another scholar who has contributed so much to her academic world. His main interest included, among others, in ‘Interdisciplinary researches’, ‘Social and historical sciences’ and ‘legal philosophy’. He has authored about six dozen outstanding research articles. Some of them dealing with socio-legal themes, were published in national journals of repute.
Mention can be made about few select books which merits attention:
1. Ed. Basic Issues on Centre-State Relations (an outstanding and excellent exposition of the state of working of the Indian federalism, its memories and the rationale)
2. Industrial Tribunal: Working, Procedure and Judicial Trend’
3. Socio-Legal Problems and Developing Society
4. Ed. Manipur Treaties and Documents
5. Right of the Oppressed Nations
6. Current Legal Essays
7. Manipur Puwari: Kunmathoisuba Chahi Cha
8. Others
He also edited for sometime a Manipuri quarterly ‘Matamgee Khongthang’, which speaks about the Meitei culture and civilization. An English quarterly, ‘Cultural Flow’ was also published by him in the capacity of its Executive Editor. Moreover he was associated with various research organizations and was a leading spokesperson on issues affecting Manipur to the national and international audiences.
This brings us to the question of place of late Professor in the academic landscape of Manipur. All we can say is that we have lost a leading intellectual. But we are glad that at least other leading intellectuals of Manipur acknowledged the contribution of late Oja on December 13, 2009 on the occasion of his book release.
An Irreparable Vacuum
Prof. Sanajaoba believed in an egalitarian Manipur and held the firm belief that all the indigenous communities living in the State had equal stake in the land. All their languages, cultures and customs, he advocated, should have equal rights and status. Oja was one of the leading activist-intellectuals of our times who gave a rare blending of the outlook of an intellectual and the calibre of an activist in his relationship with various crucial incidents that erupted in the course of the history of democratic movements in Manipur. Throughout his life and in his writings, late Sanajaoba stood for oppressed peoples’ rights and was a protagonist of international humanitarian laws.
His untimely death would leave an irreplaceable vacuum in the world of academics in Manipur.
This article was posted on The Sangai Express on Sunday, December 20, 2009

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